Monday, 7 November 2011

Coal, the greenest fuel

The insane obsession with both wind and solar PV technologies, both hugely expensive and producing tiny yields of power, ignores the greenest technology of all, one for which we have massive existing reserves, and one that can be developed locally at relatively low cost - coal pyrolysis. Simply, this is heating coal without allowing it to burn, and capturing both the volatiles given off and the hard waste remaining. One of the UK's last coal pyrolysis plants, at Carrickfergus, is shown below. Even non-engineers can see how simple it is. 

















About half of the gas output is Hydrogen and 35% Methane. Hydrogen is the real vehicle fuel of the future, and Methane can go straight to existing domestic supplies. Carbon monoxide is also produced; this can be hydrolised with Hydrogen to make Methanol, used to produce biodiesel. By-products include coke and coal tar. Coke can be burned as a smokeless fuel in domestic fireplaces, and coal tar can be further distilled to provide a range of useful products. There are small amounts of Sulphur (Sulphuric acid for batteries) and Ammonia (fertilisers and explosives) produced. Pretty much everything can be used.


Coal. The greenest energy source.

11 comments:

Barnacle Bill said...

Aye, but only the nasty coal mine owners would know how to operate one properly & profitably.
Whereas with these "renewable" energies any muppet can jump on the bandwagon, proclaim themselves an expert without any credentials to back their claims up and fleece us proles.
I was recently on the site of one of our local former coal mines where there is said to be at least another hundred years of reserves underground.
How many of our windfarms will be around a century later?

talwin said...

BB. I honestly wonder how many wind farms will be around in a dozen years.

Anonymous said...

Tried and working technology - what's not to like?

The greatest obstacle to a British energy 'renaissance' is, the DoE+CC, get Huhne, get him out and get someone in who knows what he's talking about, which precludes all of the Westminster eejits.
FFS, why can't engineers be allowed run the country?

Woodsy42 said...

In the days before north sea 'natural gas' we had what was called town gas, appliances had to be replaced or modified for the changeover.
Town gas was extracted from coal. Presumably by this process.

Raedwald said...

Yep - Town Gas was the Hydrogen, Methane and Carbon Monoxide all together. It was the Carbon Monoxide that made it lethal.

Greg Tingey said...

Actually nuclear is the greenest fuel....

outsider said...

Coal is certainly the blackest fuel.
My grandfather, who organised such things for us, always tried to buy Welsh anthracite for the Ideal boiler and Derby Brights for the open fires (Coalite after the Clean Air Acts). They delivered the most heat per ton.
Sometimes, we had to make do with coke, which burned OK but threw out a horrible noxious smell if I opened the front of the boiler when doing my winter homework. The coke-like Sunbrite and Phurnacite were hopeless and soon replaced, though they might work well with modern stoves.
Anthracite is a wonderful domestic fuel that was misused and exhausted for steelmaking just as UK natural gas has been horribly misused and exhausted for power generation (against the well-founded original agreement of the International Energy Agency).
Personally, I think there could be a fantastic infrastructure project for large-scale renewable energy but it is so outrageously ambitious that I am loath to mention it.
Meanwhile we should boost nuclear, remember that coal is by no means a homogeneous commodity and do our best to find some more of that wonderful anthracite for domestic fuel. Coke is for the shrinking steelmaking market, not really to keep the home fires burning.
Not sure if coke technology has been sufficiently developed, By Dr Bronowski or his successors, to make it a low-pollution feedstock for power stations.

Oh dear said...

When power outages start to get frequent, (probably as early as this winter) modern boilers, pumps, electronic controls will be useless.

I predict a great future for DIY projects opening up old hearths that were enclosed in the 60's. If you have a modern house you will be able to sit in your overcoat around the candle and reminisce about the 1970's power rationing. After a few weeks of this perhaps Huhne will be fired and a proper electricity generation policy utilizing nuclear, coal and natural gas will finally be implemented.

Apparently nothing has been learned in the intervening forty years.

Anonymous said...

@ outsider
"just as UK natural gas has been horribly misused and exhausted for power generation (against the well-founded original agreement of the International Energy Agency"

My Dad was an industrial chemist for Shell all his life; and you have just reminded me of something he said donkey's years ago to me. He said that in future generations, we would look back at this time of burning natural gas as a time of economic and petrochemical vandalism.

Coney Island

Greg Tingey said...

And, I hate to remind you, but coal really is a killer.
Much more dangerous than any other source in terms of people wasted.
The usual measure is: ...
Deaths per terawatt-hour of energy generated"

Even including the insanity of Chernobyl where the reactor design was inherently unsafe, and the idiots operating it obeyed political instructions to screw around with it ...
Caol is a bigger killer.
Smog, lung disease, radioactivity from the smoke-plumes, dead miners, more dead miners .....

hang them, hang them all said...

And here's what's coming to blight the view from Carrickfergus to the impressive Knockagh monument...

http://www.gaelectric.ie/news-detail.asp?nid=69&id=5

http://www.4ni.co.uk/northern_ireland_news.asp?id=107764

and here's the view that'll disappear...

http://www.beechgrovefarm.co.uk/photos/images/knockagh2.jpg